EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 22/05/2020

The New York Times – Keith Bradsher and Chris Buckley / China, faced with challenges, mounts show of strength at Party congress

  • China’s top leaders on Friday made a show of strength to confront defiance in Hong Kong and the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, even as they acknowledged that both had dealt a blow to the ruling Communist Party’s agenda.
  • On Hong Kong, the leadership struck a hard line at the annual meeting of China’s legislature, unveiling a plan to impose sweeping new security laws that would place the territory more firmly under Beijing’s thumb and crack down on antigovernment protests. But the move is likely to incite more unrest and outrage in the semiautonomous territory as well as criticism from abroad.
  • On the economy, the premier, addressing the opening of the National People’s Congress, declared that the government had achieved a “decisive victory” against the coronavirus outbreak and that the country has shown great resilience. But in a break with tradition, China abandoned setting an annual growth target for 2020, recognizing the difficulties in restarting its economy amid a pandemic.
  • Premier Li Keqiang, who is second-ranked in the Communist Party hierarchy behind Mr. Xi, made his speech to nearly 3,000 congress delegates who wore masks as they sat in neat rows in the ornate Great Hall of the People. He pledged to help blunt the impact of the slowdown with goals to limit inflation and unemployment.
  • Financial Times – Hudson Lockett, Nicolle Liu and Joe Leahy / Hong Kong stocks dive on China’s plans for security law

The Guardian – Martin Chulov / Lebanon’s cash crisis hits Eid: ‘There is nothing to celebrate this year’

  • For more than a decade, Ahmad Hussein would spend the last few days of Ramadan assembling arrays of sweets in his shop in south Beirut, preparing for the bonanza to follow. Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration that capped the monthlong fast, was an annual highlight as customers splurged on sugary treats and shiny new clothes.
  • But not this year. With Lebanon facing an unprecedented economic collapse, much of what Amhad and nearby shopkeepers are selling in one of Beirut’s poorest neighbourhoods is beyond their own means. Here and across the country, prices have at least doubled over the past two months, leaving basic goods outside the reach of more than half the population.
  • Its long-stable currency continues to crumble against the dollar, which is still being used to pay for imports. In a country that produces next to nothing, that means nearly all food, and much of what else is needed to keep societies afloat. The unravelling has revealed a stark reality: that Lebanon’s relative prosperity was built on a financial illusion.
  • Politicians have appealed for foreign aid, and the prime minister, Hassan Diab, has acknowledged that Lebanon is on the brink of an “unimaginable food crisis”. The crisis is likely to devastate already impoverished communities, exert escalating pressure on middle classes and widen a disparity between an affluent elite and the rest.
  • Foreign Policy – Anchal Vohra / The death of Lebanon’s middle class

Euractiv – Alexandra Brzozowski / US withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty takes European allies by surprise

  • Washington announced on Thursday (21 May) it would withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies Treaty, allowing unarmed surveillance flights over signatory states, the Trump administration’s latest move to pull the country out of yet another major global landmark accord.
  • The accord, signed in 1992 and in force since 2002, allows its signatories to conduct short-notice unarmed surveillance flights to gather information on each other’s military forces and installations, thereby contributing to inspections of conventional arms control and strategic offensive weapons and reducing the risk of conflict.
  • The idea is that the more rival militaries know about each other, the less the chance of conflict between them. Russia and the US, the world’s two biggest nuclear powers, have used it to keep an eye on each other’s activities, but in recent years senior US officials and global non-proliferation experts have warned US President Trump may pull Washington out of the pact.
  • The US “cannot remain in arms control agreements that are violated by the other side, and that are actively being used not to support but rather to undermine international peace and security,” US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said in a statement on Thursday. Pompeo cited Russian restrictions on flights and claimed Moscow has used the treaty as “a tool to facilitate military coercion.”
  • Politico – Bryan Bender / US Democrats warn Trump not to withdraw from the Open Skies surveillance pact

Foreign Policy – Paul Hockenos / Has the coronavirus disappeared climate politics?

  • Climate experts have feared Europe’s climate goals could get drowned out in the cacophony of panicked calls amid the coronavirus pandemic for rekindling conventional industries. When Merkel and Macron proposed that the EU disperse a total of €500 billion ($545 billion) in recovery money, Macron explicitly underscored that the rescue program would buttress the European Green Deal.
  • But the decisive battles are still to be fought, and Europe’s traditional economic forces are not backing down quietly. The economic fallout in Europe is vast—as many as 59 million jobs could be lost and trillions of dollars in revenue and taxes. There’s a broad consensus that economic stimulus of historic proportions will be required to fight recession and put devastated economies back on their feet. 
  • Less certain is to what degree the stimulus and recovery will take climate policy into account. Though the post-financial-crisis measures lifted many European countries out of recession, they did very little to accelerate the transition to more sustainable, climate-friendly economies. In many ways, they did the opposite, rewarding polluting industries that only caused Europe’s carbon footprint to swell.
  • A DIW report on post-pandemic green stimulus efforts argues that the recovery packages must include clearly defined climate targets. The French government’s aid to Air France commits the airline to slashing its carbon emissions for domestic flights by 50 percent by 2025. This time around, it seems, Europe’s recovery funds will be used to transform the economy, not reinforce bad habits.
  • The Economist / The covid and climate crises are connected

Further reading for the weekend:

The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and EsadeGeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.

Política Internacional |